Welcome to Saturday’s Grand Tasting at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival! Join me (that’s my pal, “Sommelier to the Stars” Christopher Sawyer), for some amazing wine and food…
The weather didn’t have to be perfect ~ but it was. (Mid 70s; light, fresh breeze.) The food didn’t have to be worth a trip in itself ~ but it was. (Grilled lamb rack chops, hand-tossed pizzas, French and California cheeses galore…)
I would have been blissed out in a downpour, with nothing more than bread and water.
But Mom Nature was in an especially good mood for Saturday’s Grand Tasting at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. And the main attraction ~ which would have carried the show all by itself ~ waited inside the huge, white, O-shaped tent at the acclaimed Pinot-centric winery, Goldeneye.
There, in alpha order, were dozens of local producers pouring their Pinots. Even when the actual wineries hailed from other regions, the wines had to come from Anderson Valley vineyards. (Waits-Mast Family Cellars, for example, has its winemaking facilities right in the city of San Francisco! You can see the young husband-and-wife owners, Brian Mast and Jennifer Waits, in the vid at top.)
For a Pinot freak like me, the Grand Tasting is pure nirvana. I take my time ambling around the tent, tasting the Pinot-based sparklers and rosés first (because they’re more delicate) before moving on to the reds.
It’s always a treat for me to reconnect with old friends, as they pour their wines at their booths. And since I imagine you were wondering who was who in the video at top, I’ll fill you in on some names…
Rick Davis (left) and Joe Webb of Londer Vineyards. Then Heather McKelvey and Fred Buonanno (whom you’ve met before), owners of Philo Ridge Vineyards. Next, Mary Elke, proprietor of Elke Vineyards, who makes a lovely bubbly as well as a very elegant Pinot.
Foursight? Nope, that’s not a typo. It’s a clever reference to the four generations in the Charles family to live and work on their beautiful vineyard property. Bill and Nancy Charles, in the next pic, represent generation #3. Then comes Nancy once again with daughter Kristy, who in addition to her work at the winery, also serves as president of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association’s Board of Directors. (By the way, in a neat crossover, Joe Webb from the Londer pic is also the winemaker for Foursight Wines. Plus, he’s Kristy Charles’s husband!)
Some new acquaintances ~ David Rossi of Fulcrum, along with Jennifer Waits and Brian Mast of Waits-Mast. Beautiful Pinots from both wineries.
I also enjoyed tasting with David and Leslie Brutocao of Brutocao Cellars, Chenoa Casen from Zina Hyde-Cunningham, and Thomas Brocker (holding the *huge* bottle!) from MacPhail.
Since I began coming to the Pinot Festival several years ago, I’ve seen some incredible growth in the number of participating wineries. And contrary to the usual expectations, the wines’ overall quality just keeps *in*creasing.
Pinot Noir is a notoriously finicky grape to grow, and also to make into wine. (As one winemaker quipped to me, “It’s like herding cats!”) But the Anderson Valley offers some of the very best Pinot-growing terrain ~ or as the French put it, “terroir” (pronounced “tair-wahr,” a nebulous term that includes many other factors in addition to actual soil) in the world. Plus, the region’s cool-to-cold climate, courtesy of the nearby Pacific, lets the grapes ripen slowly ~ and develop their subtle flavors gradually ~ during their long “hang time” on the vine.
The vintners here *really* know what they’re doing ~ and it shows. As one winery owner humbly put it, “We plant only the grape varietals that grow best here, and just let Mom Nature do her thing.” (Guess good ol’ Mom is *really* busy around here!). And when it comes to making the wine, they step back and take as much of a “hands-off” approach as possible.
Evidently, it’s working like a charm. With their Pinot Noirs, and the Alsace-style varietals (click here to check out February’s festival) that also do so well here, the Anderson Valley wine community is producing vintage after vintage of consistent, exceptional quality.
The Grand Tasting, with so many of these fantastic wines in one place, is the perfect arena to sample them, to meet the people who make them, and to become better acquainted with this little slice of Mendocino County heaven. Each year I find wines I think are my favorites ~ then I try a few more, and everything changes.
Pinot Noir is like that. It’s elusive, it’s mysterious, it’s even something of a fickle chameleon.
To a degree, you never know what you’re going to get. That’s part of Pinot Noir’s charm ~ and that’s just one of the reasons I love it so much. Fickle though it may be, you can bet that any given Pinot from the Anderson Valley is likely to be quite wonderful.
Tomorrow, we’ll explore the Valley a bit, hit as many wineries as time permits, and do some serious tasting (plus some wine-and-food pairing) at the Sunday Open House parties. Get set to jump in the ‘vertible ~ I’ll bring you along for the ride!
Cheers, my friends ~